Raw milk, the Canadian Wheat Board, and dairy supply management

From Jim Algie, in the Owen Sound Sun Times:

“An obvious ideological gap exists between the current federal government’s staunch defence of supply-management, marketing limits for some Canadian farmers while insisting on “marketing freedom” for western wheat and barley growers.

I refer, of course, to the government’s controversial decision to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board’s marketing monopoly. Reporters ask logically, “Can abolition of supply-management for cows’ milk and poultry be far behind?”

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has a sensible, political explanation. He can handle criticism for philosophical inconsistency because supply management has flourished.

From the viewpoint of Canadian politics a national farm program works when it sustains the farmers who use it while making minimal demands on government for financial support. But here’s where Grey County dairy farmer Michael Schmidt’s raw milk campaign comes together with the great Canadian Wheat Board debate now raging in western provinces.

Schmidt recently ended a hunger strike for the sake of his own health and with the advice of his doctor. He reportedly lost 50 pounds during a fruit juice and water diet that began earlier this fall as part of a continuing battle to legalize the distribution of raw milk.

Fortunately, Schmidt also had convenient cover from a group of Ontario legislators who helped engineer a brief, no-commitments meeting with recently re-elected Premier Dalton McGuinty. Schmidt and an advisor emerged from the meeting convinced they have new options for continuing the raw milk debate.

The province has framed this conflict entirely and accurately as an issue of public health. Raw milk is obviously a public health issue because of potential bacterial hazards, as Schmidt appears to recognize.

In a post-hunger-strike interview he told Sun Times reporter Scott Dunn his objective is “proper regulations” for raw milk. Schmidt warned of the danger of an “underground” market without “proper guidelines in regards to the production of raw milk.”

However, Schmidt also frames his cause as an issue of personal freedom. At some point the quest for freedom to consume raw milk will conflict with existing regulations that restrict milk production generally. When that happens, it will end up in the lap of Gerry Ritz or some future successor.

Supply management limits farmers more strictly than does the Canadian Wheat Board which began operation in 1935 and, since 1943, controls sales of western wheat and barley. Supply management of cows’ milk was adopted in the 1960s and is part of a uniquely Canadian concept that manages not only the marketing of farm commodities but also total production, distribution and a variety of transportation and quality control issues.

The concept is to match supply to domestic demand in order to provide farmers with market prices that profitably reflect their production costs. To participate in dairy marketing boards, farmers must own quota, namely, the right to market milk….”

Read it all in the Owen Sound Sun Times.


Filed under News

8 responses to “Raw milk, the Canadian Wheat Board, and dairy supply management

  1. Peter

    Are regulations not the antithesis of freedom?
    If we have “regulated raw milk”, do we then not have a “one shoe fits all”? So then we’ll have a choice between product A (pasteurized) and product B (raw). Is that the “right to choose” we are looking for? Is that then not a privilege granted to us by the government.
    On one hand, we are told raw milk is so safe you can buy it unregulated most everywhere in the world, including vending machines in Italy. On the another hand, we are told that it is sufficiently dangerous to justify regulations. How is asking the government to regulate raw milk increasing our individual liberty? Somehow this doesn’t add up for me…
    I get the impression that the “fear” around raw milk has carried over to “fear” of the free market, and that “fear” is being played for political posturing and positioning on both sides of the fence.


    Peter, more research will reveal that in Europe that inspectors have access cards to the vending machines to test the raw milk and if not the best will contact the farmer to correct it. I am still learning too.

    Canada Cow Shares was given good advice by Premier Dalton McGuinty when he said for Michael Schmidt to lobby all Ontario MLA’s.
    The Milk Board has a government relations specialist ,Bill Donahue, to target key elected officials. Every candidate was contacted to solidify their commitment to supply management. The Premier’s Breakfast is sponsored by the Milk Board. Also, the Prime Minister’s Barbeque is supported by the Milk Board.Sorry other Political Parties. At least Taxpayers did not pay until they buy the Milk Board’s products.

    When there is negative media coverage, a group known as
    Issues Management Working Group (IMWG), coordinates a response.
    This is another reason why all Raw Milk Dairy Farmers should belong to
    Canada Cow Shares.
    Almost forgot about Golf Tournament that is sponsored.

    • Peter

      Thanks for the clarification about the vending machines. I am not surprised that they are regulated. Perhaps I should have left that comment out. The point I was trying to make is that there is this one vein of thought which says: It’s just milk… what’s the problem? Everyone else is doing it? Then the other vein of thought is that it should be regulated/controlled because it is hazardous. And I realize that, on one level, they are not mutually exclusive. However, I have asked before, and will ask again: What is wanted? Freedom (including right to choose), or regulations (privilege to buy raw milk)? I see plenty of double speak in this raw milk movement, and no one seems to be calling it out… Am I the only one seeing it?

    • BC Food Security

      Thanks Richard. Your reply merits a full article in itself ? It really helps to understands the many thousands of ways the Ontario Milk Board pulls strings against the greater public good and interest. Would also love to see a followup series of articles on how the Milk Boards in BC and other provinces pull political puppet strings ? And here we ,raw dairy supporters , are supposed to stand out in the cold and collect 500 000 signatures while the politicians enjoy Barbecues and golfing tournaments ? ( I am just joking when I say that ) I wish that Canada Cow Shares would be offered the opportunity to sponsor a barbecue and breakfast for all the Ontario MPPs . It certainly would be a lot cheaper to buy influence this way then to have to engage in a gruelling court action for 17 years ? I say let us trade places ! Let the Ontario Milk board now have to go to court every time they need something and , more importantly, spend $10 million dollars on research to support evidence about what and why they want to do each little thing ? Seems only fair ………………………………
      right ?

  3. Zeb

    I do not see agricultural marketing boards (“supply management”) as clear-cut ‘yes or no’ issues. I think to their credit at one time or another these boards have provided justified protection for farmers, the Wheat Board in particular, since farmers faced monopolistic control of the transportation of their grain to markets.

    Remove marketing boards and you may quickly see 1, 2, or 3 etc very dominant players who will try to consolidate control of the market for their own benefit. They will preach “free market”, but all too quickly move toward trying to dominate and sew up the market, making it once again unfree –and likely also quite “un-diverse”. Well, you may justifiably argue that occurs regardless, but I am quite sure it could get worse with whom/what takes over if the boards are scrapped. At least these boards are “made in Canada”. Let’s hope the supply management boards at this time try some creative self-renewal, or else bow to pressure by government and people to do so.

    The editorialist here has brought up the raw milk issue as if it were implicitly connected to supply management, but I don’t see that as being a correct way of thinking about the present situation. It seems a bit of a misleading characterization.

    Framing the issue in this manner would not be properly correct unless raw cow milk supply to consumers was happening on the shelves of grocery stores today, which it is not, at least in Ontario. Instead our situation here is raw milk products stay within ownership of a given cowshare co-op, which consumes its own particular type of milk products. This arrangement does not financially harm milk producers, in fact can help stabilize farm income (while also “securing” food supply); so it does not contradict one of the supposed reasons of ‘supply management’ and ‘marketing boards’ — stable income for farmers. That much, for example, I wish the editorialist would have drawn attention to.

    An excellent read, with chapter 5 on supply management in Canada, is a book titled, ‘The War in the Country’ – D&M Publishers, by Ontario farmer and writer Thomas F. Pawlick. Google it at this link:


    I understand and agree with the previous comments to a point. I would like to clarify my experience on Milk Boards and Cow Shares.

    On Albert Kamps farm in Lacombe, Alberta, I asked him, “Do you know of a farmer that does Cow Shares?” His reply was, “If I knew, I would send the Police after them and Charge them. The only person that can drink the milk is the owner of the cow and must live on the same piece of land that the cow is on.” Albert should know for he is on the Alberta Milk Board.
    His point of view is Safety but is he threatened by Raw Milk. There is a connection but should not be for most Raw Milk Drinkers drink very little of their milk.

    A week later I noticed a Gov. Ag. Inspectors card in my mail box. I phoned him and got instructions to phone the Red Deer office. In the course of the conversation he stated, “We have received a complaint in the Red Deer office that you wanted to buy milk. Did you approach a farmer before you approached this farmer?” My reply was, ” No.” He continued, “Did you approach a farmer after you saw the farmer?” My reply, “No”. He continued ,”Let us make it clear right now that you don’t. We have a lot of eyes and ears out there and you will be in big trouble if you do. Furthermore, we have instructed all of our producers that if anyone approaches them that they are to ignore them and walk away or their license will be in jeopardy.” Their quota license is worth $20-30.thousand per cow. After a very good discussion, He ask me to submit my plan. I am still working on it with my top C.E.O..

    All Politicians need to be contacted, a web site made, find a farmer who desires to sell on a lease to purchase agreement, and the easiest part to collect 1000 names / e-mails of people who wish to be co-owners of
    Send questions to fuwmilkalberta@gmail.com

    • Zeb Landon

      What your anecdote relates illustrates a misuse of law enforcement. The example of the Alberta milk marketing board saying they use the police to enforce their policies must have been shocking to be told. After all, if I have a tenant who doesn’t pay me rent, I have to go to a civil court, not phone the police to send a swat team, whom I would call for a criminal offence, such as if the tenant pulled out a firearm and fired it. Snapping their fingers to get the police to enforce market share seems nothing short of outright bullying, what you might expect in some fascist banana republic where a cartel has the government intimidate individual businesses. If the milk board has a complaint, it should be dealt with in court, or via a grievance process, not like some heavies engaged in a turf war.

      For me personally, we have a fundamental right to choose unadulterated food, and we are faced with denial of this right. Government should be afraid we may action them for interfering with our right to look after our health in the way we see fit, which harms no one else.

      If we disagree with the methods of factory farms, we are also being denied the right to support an alternative, more ethical, form of agriculture. Life, liberty, and happiness denied, ethical religious values respecting God’s creation denied. Keep repeating it, maybe they will get the message.

  5. BC Food Security

    Zeb: I agree that the Marketing Boards have done some good. But intolerance breeds intolerance both ways. As The Bovine editor showed with his excellent stories about Ontario and then Alberta the marketing boards seem to use every available dirty means to preserve their monopoly in an unquestioning manner. If as you say , it is only a tool to serve the Canadian public good then why are they so brutal about as you say some tiny inconsequential cow shares here and there that do not even total 0.1 % of market share ? Ironically if we look at the really big picture I believe that milk is losing overall market share to veganism and raw food diets . This loss is partly because they have zero incentive to improve their product i.e its taste and nutrition . All their energies seem to be focussed on protecting their turf . Whereas Michael Schmidt’s visionary ideas about improving the health of the cow and the quality of the soils and milk will radically improve the industry and increase overall market share whether you are a raw dairy or conventional dairy farmer . Wasn’t there an old saying about “not shooting the messenger ” ?

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